Drexel University Materials Science and Engineering hosted the sixth annual Philly Materials Day at the Bossone Research Center Feb. 6. Science and engineering programs prepared nearly 40 different demonstrations to explain the definition, concepts and everyday visibility of materials science and engineering.
“Whenever I get asked ‘what is materials engineering?’ I always say ‘everything is made of something,’” Christopher Weyant, a professor in the Materials Science and Engineering department, explained.
Materials science and engineering is a field of science that is generally visible everywhere. Materials scientists and engineers make decisions about what materials to use to create products, whether that means choosing the type of plastic to make a fork or deciding what type of processor to use for a smartphone.
Materials science and engineering studies the components that make up items used for everyday life. It is a field that has become the basis of other engineering applications, which all deal with different materials that are studied and created by materials scientists and engineers.
Philly Materials Day is an event that aims to inform and teach the public about not only materials science and engineering, but science and engineering in general.
“I think [Philly Materials Day is] really cool. I think it’s an interesting event to get people engaged in science,” volunteer and mechanical engineering freshman Eric French said.
“Going in, I wasn’t sure if any adults would be interested and that it would just be kids playing, but most adults that are here seem to be interested in what they’re learning. I think it’s also cool just to get science back into the community,” French continued.
This annual event began six years ago when Philadelphia’s leading public media provider, WHYY, started to promote a new series they called “Making Stuff.”
“The series was about materials science and engineering and so there was funding that came from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to fund big events like this [Philly Materials Day] to kind of talk about materials and get them out,” Weyant said.
“After that first year, we decided to just keep going with it and so we’ve held it every year since then,” he continued.
By we, Weyant means the University of Pennsylvania, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, The Franklin Institute, and Drexel University Materials Science and Engineering. Each year they all partner to put on the event and showcase new demonstrations. Beginning in 2015, the program’s demonstrations divided between five subsections in a color-coded manner; sports, health, communication, energy and earth.
Each demonstration includes hands-on interaction that lasts an average of three to five minutes. The demonstrations are led by a mix of new and returning Drexel and Penn undergraduate and graduate student volunteers, usually from the two schools’ engineering programs.
Junior materials science and engineering major Darya Dragun began volunteering at Philly Materials Day four years ago when she was still an undeclared engineering major. She said she’s volunteered every year since and plans to do so after her graduation.
This year, Dragun was a part of the turbine demonstration table in the energy section, where they had a setup of a small computer fan connected to an LED light bulb. Connected to the fan was a tube that channeled the wind into the blades of a turbine.
“We used a hairdryer to spin the turbine, which then generated electricity and made the lightbulb shine. We used this demo to explain how electricity is generated and then followed by explaining how we make the turbine spin,” Dragun explained.
“I am always very happy to help with Materials Day. I think it’s a great event and an amazing opportunity to share the knowledge I have gained while being here at Drexel,” Dragun said. “It is also a learning experience for me because I get to practice my presentation skills and I learn something new from every demo I run.”
While most of the table demonstrations fit into one of the previously mentioned categories, some uncategorized demonstrations remain fan-favorites.
“Probably our most popular demonstration is the liquid nitrogen ice cream, which we do once an hour and everyone is waiting for it to happen because everyone gets a snack,” Weyant said.
With the large student body of both Philadelphia universities, there are always new concepts to explore and present at each demonstration table every year, especially with Weyant’s Civic Engagement students.
“My Civic 101 students bring in their demo every year, so that’s always different ,” he said. “During the first five weeks of the quarter, part of what [the students] were doing was forming groups and coming up with their own demonstration to do here.”
This year, two new concepts were brought in by the freshmen in Weyant’s Civic Engagement classes. One of the groups wanted to do a concept that fit under the sports theme.
“After talking to the whole group, we decided we were going to do a table on ‘Why Does it Bounce?’ which is a demonstration that would revolve around different materials of different sports’ balls and how each materials makes the balls bouncy,” French said.
With this demonstration, French and his group researched the materials that make up different sports balls and compared and presented how each material affected the ball’s ability to bounce. For example, sports balls made out of rubber are the ones that bounce higher because the rubber material is elastic and allows the ball to spring back after hitting a surface.
Another Civic Engagement group decided to present a demonstration of how materials science and engineering can apply to health.
Freshman nursing major Marisa Ashton, along with her group, found a way to talk about the importance of materials science and engineering in the healthcare setting by focusing on superhydrophobic nanotechnology.
“Whether you’re a doctor or a nurse, when you’re doing hands-on patient care, you’re exposed to a lot,” Ashton said. “So with this hydrophobic technology, we pretty much wanted to demonstrate that whether you’re in health care or not, you can protect all the things that you have from damage.”
Superhydrophobic nanotechnology refers to the molecules at the smallest scale that can create a layer that does not get wet when liquids come in contact with it. This type of technology allows for any surface to stay dry even if dipped into a pool of liquid.
Ashton believes that this could help surgeons by protecting their surgical tools, keeping the metals from getting worn out too quickly.
“It’s really cool,” Ashton said. “We used something called Ultra-Ever Dry, which actually creates a hydrophobic layer on top of a surface and it completely repels water.”
In addition to the many table demonstrations, Philly Materials Day also holds three smaller workshops throughout the day. The public also gets the chance to see Grand Hank, a live and interactive local chemist who does presentations for the children. The workshops change year to year and allow the public to understand materials science and engineering from different perspectives.
“We have workshops focused on light-emitting diodes this year and we have another workshop based on crystal structures,” Weyant said. “They’re building models of atoms using gummy bears and toothpicks [at this workshop]. It’s for a younger group, so they can maybe eat some of their atoms while they are building their structures,” he continued.
Although the primary goal of Philly Materials Day was to entertain and inform the public regarding materials science and engineering, the student volunteers also gained good experience from it.
“I think [Philly Materials Day] is a great opportunity to help give back to the community,” freshman mechanical engineering major Prem Patel said. “It’s a volunteer opportunity that can not just make yourself learn a valuable experience, but also give to others what you learn at Drexel and try to help teach them.”
Philly Materials Day is a free event and anyone in the public is encouraged to go and learn more about materials science and engineering, while having fun watching and engaging in the numerous science demonstrations.
“Philly Materials Day is definitely something that is open for people of different age ranges. There is a couple, probably in their 70s, that come here every year,” Weyant said. “There’s always something new to learn, regardless of who you are,” he added.
The 2017 Philly Materials Day will be held Feb. 4 at the Drexel Bossone Research Center. For more information and details, refer to phillymaterials.org for updated information.